Destination Europe, Part V
(For the benefit of those who joined in late: The earlier four parts of Destination Europe series can be read from the links. After the exciting visits to Paris and Lourdes, this part of Destination Europe Travelogue reaches the French Riviera and from there, to the Miracle Town of Pisa)
We reached Nice Ville at around 9 am by our overnight train from Lourdes via Toulouse and got into our pre-booked 9 hour van tour to the French Riviera. We managed to grab sandwiches (its still France you know?) and soft drinks/ coffee before we started our sojourn in the most glamorous part of France, after Paris.
This was like the typical European summer – hot day and pleasant evening – after all the unusual rainfall and cold weather in Paris and Lourdes during the previous week. Our jackets go right to the bottom of our bags.
Our 9-hour bus tour first took us to the perfume factory, Fragonard. The brand is very expensive, but the factory sells them at apparently a good discount to their prices in superstores of big cities. They are still expensive after all, so we manage to avoid a compulsive saleswoman.
Some pictures from the Fragonard perfume factory:
Some literature on the different types of perfumes
Bottles waiting to be filled (left); ready for dispatch (right)
The perfumery (above) and the process of making it (down)
Rose at Fragonard backyard
We then proceed on our way to the Principality of Monaco, happens to be the second smallest independent country after Vatican, and also a country within a country (France). It’s pretty small, approximately 4 square km and has a population of around 30,000 people. The place is famous for the Grand Prix racing circuit, the only one that uses the normal roads used by every one else. We experienced a drive through the roads used for Formula 1 and imagined how the fast cars would manage on such narrow roads. We are informed that common-man’s cars are not allowed on to the main roads during the racing weekend.
Within a few minutes is the district of Monte Carlo, the famed place of Casino and a name used in statistical models (Monte Carlo Simulations) used in financial markets. Our tour guide explains that gambling was forbidden in the erstwhile powerful Church rules, but the name Casino was given subsequently, which means, little bad house! We had the opportunity to see all the most expensive cars of this world, driven by the mostly the rich Italian and Swiss businessmen coming from the close-by industrial towns across the borders.
In the casino town is the opportunity to witness the change of guards at the Prince’s palace at around noon. All the crowds are here to witness this spectacle. We visit the cathedral which is also known for the marriage of Hollywood actress Grace Kelly with Prince Rainier III, we are told.
The luxury casino town of Montecarlo – Monaco in pictures:
On the Monaco grand prix road..
Monaco princely cathedral
Change of guard for the famous Swiss Guards at Monaco
Conveyance that suits the taste and abilities!
We then proceeds to Cannes, the film festival capital of Europe. We take sufficient pictures sitting or standing on the red carpeted stairs, remembering all the film stars and celebrities who make a beeline to this place once a year in the month of June for the film festival. As the town is on the beach, we don’t miss the sunbathers on the long stretch of the sea shore. Can’t write more about that anyway! We also visit the market square with excellent restaurants and crafty items on sale.
Some nice scenery indeed at the city of Cannes – I guess I cant give you a more closer view of the crowd relaxing under the sun!
Seafood galore at Cannes town square!
Our next stop is at Antibes (pronounced ON-THEEB in French), arguably the yacht kingdom of Europe lying on the shore of Mediterranean Sea. One can find all the expensive yachts here and most businesses are built around yachting.
The Yacht-town of Antibes!
At the end of the journey, our mini bus drops us back to the Nice Ville station for our onward journey into Italy. There was enough time for us to grab some food for supper before we take yet another Eurail connection. We think its time for the last sandwich, as we would soon be heading the land of pizzas and pastas.
Italian Connection: Towards to the Roman Empire!
As I stated in the first part of the travelogue, the journey from Nice Ville to Pisa gave us some surprises. The Trenitalia (Italian train) perhaps refuses to come into French territory, so we have to take a SNCF to Vintimiglia (Vinti Mille in French) within the Italian border to take our scheduled train to Pisa. It’s no doubt a bit chaotic for all – for us who realize at the last hour of the change and for the security officers who are unsure how to redirect the passengers. Ultimately, we board a local French train, reach the town within Italy’s border in about one hour and then board our main train that would take us to the miracle land, Pisa.
The site map of the miracle town
There is not much life in Pisa, at least at the time we reach (early morning around 5 am). No shop, no bus service, not even a toilet in the station is open at that early hour! We wait till 6am to deposit our luggage (costs 3 Euros per bag – small or big) at the station itself which will enable us to explore Pisa without much burden. That’s the advised move for sure for any Pisa goers as one has to climb up the narrow stairs of the mysteriously tilting tower.
The calm settings of the miracle town in the early hours of the day
We got into a bus to the Place of Miracles and reached the destination in about 15 minutes. Here too, nothing is open! We should not expect much early activity for the land that sleeps very late in the night!
We happen to be among the first tourists here, well ahead of the staff working in the Place of Miracles! We walked around for a while, with a lot of time to rest in the calm settings of the miracle town and manage to get a glimpse of how Italians get to work in the morning hours. The staff at the Pisa monuments (which includes a Cathedral, the leaning tower and a museum) are ready at around 8 am, ready to open the massive doors of each monument as well as their offices.
The ticket counter opens at 8 am, the first walk up the Pisa starts at 8.30 am. Needless to say, we are the firsts for the day! We climb up the 287 steps, all laid out in a narrow path up the leaning tower. On one side, we experience tilting to our left side and on the other side of the tower, tilt right! It’s a wonderful experience no doubt, but surely comes at a cost. It costs 15 Euro per person to climb up the Tower, as well as to enter the Cathedral. Even a technically faulty piece of work earns millions for the State exchequer, just because it has survived a fall for all the centuries and the authorities knew how to commercialise it.
Some info on Pisa Tower (source: Wikipedia):
The Tower of Pisa (La Torre di Pisa) is a freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral at the Italian city of Pisa. It is situated behind the Cathedral and it is the third structure by time in Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square).
Although intended to stand vertically, the tower began leaning to the southeast soon after the onset of construction in 1173 due to a poorly laid foundation and loose substrate that has allowed the foundation to shift direction.
The height of the tower is 55.86 m (183.27 ft) from the ground on the lowest side and 56.70 m (186.02 ft) on the highest side. The width of the walls at the base is 4.09 m (13.42 ft) and at the top 2.48 m (8.14 ft). Its weight is estimated at 14,500 tonnes. The tower has 294 steps. The tower leans at an angle of 5.5 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is 4.5 meters from where it would stand if the tower was perfectly vertical. The Tower of Pisa was a work of art, performed in three stages over a period of about 177 years. Construction of the first floor of the white marble campanile began on August 9, 1173, a period of military success and prosperity. This first floor is surrounded by pillars with classical capitals, leaning against blind arches.
There has been controversy about the real identity of the architect of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. For many years, the design was attributed to Guglielmo and Bonanno Pisano , a well-known 12th-Century resident artist of Pisa, famous for his bronze casting, particularly in the Pisa Duomo. Bonanno Pisano left Pisa in 1185 for Monreale, Sicily, only to come back and die in his home town. His sarcophagus was discovered at the foot of the tower in 1820. However recent studies seems to indicate Diotisalvi as the original architect, by construction affinities with his other works, like the Baptistery in Pisa.
The tower began to sink after construction progressed to the third floor in 1178. This was due to a mere three-meter foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil. This means the design was flawed from the beginning. Construction was subsequently halted for almost a century, because the Pisans were almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. This allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled. In 1198, clocks were temporarily installed on the third floor of the unfinished construction.
In 1272, construction resumed under Giovanni di Simone, architect of the Camposanto. In an effort to compensate for the tilt, the engineers built higher floors with one side taller than the other. This made the tower begin to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved. Construction was halted again in 1284, when the Pisans were defeated by the Genoans in the Battle of Meloria.
The seventh floor was completed in 1319. The bell-chamber was not finally added until 1372. It was built by Tommaso di Andrea Pisano, who succeeded in harmonizing the Gothic elements of the bell-chamber with the Romanesque style of the tower. There are seven bells, one for each note of the musical scale. The largest one was installed in 1655.
After a phase (1990-2001) of structural strengthening, the tower is currently undergoing gradual surface restoration, in order to repair visual damage, mostly corrosion and blackening. These are particularly strong due to the tower’s age and to its particular conditions with respect to wind and rain.
After spending few memorable minutes at the top of the tower, we walk down the Pisa, again experiencing the slants and the leans. Now the tourist numbers have increased. It’s a good site, not only to see the leaning tower, but also of people trying to pose as if they were holding the tower from falling and some do the opposite – they pose pushing the tower down. We just laugh at some posing wrongly, but then each one has their own level of mastery in photography!
Perhaps this is the right angle to hold it from falling!
This is how it looks if the picture is clicked from a different angle!
With sufficient time to catch our next train (to Rome), we sit at the nearest commercial joint, buy our mementoes and souvenirs, eat Pizza (how can you not do this at Pisa, especially after the overdose of the sandwiches in France?) and sip Italian beer, Moretti. (Sorry, tea is not available.)
Our plan for Pisa was of just half a day and that is more than sufficient for this place. We avoid the museum, as I stated earlier, we don’t fancy much of detailed history – mainly because, we wouldn’t remember so much history within moments! Seeing the same type of history again and again is not our cup of tea as well.
Having finished one more chapter of our European experience, we walk back to the rail station in excellent weather, collect our deposited baggage and on our way for the next part of our journey.
Ground view through the bell holes at top of the tower
Splendid architecture for the praise of God, but the benches inside the Cathedral are empty!
Time to relax, time to pose, opportunity comes once in a lifetime!
Even this tree seems to be leaning with the tower!
Just one at a time – as narrow as it gets; note the wear and tear of the stairs (right)
View of the Pisa town from the top of the leaning tower
You can measure the exact angle at which the tower is leaning, from this camera angle!
So far, into our 7th day of the European sojourn, we had 3 nights in a hotel and 3 nights in trains. Some day time train travel will soon begin, which will give us an opportunity to experience and capture the beautiful countrysides of Europe. All of that in my latter episodes, with the next one being Rome & Vatican – the city, and a country within that city.
Till then, go back to the French Riviera with a ‘biera’ and enjoy Pisa with a Pizza.
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain